Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Welcome to 2010!

The start of a new year brings with it some very interesting tax developments. Congress adjourned and promised to come back and fix the estate and generation skipping tax this year. So right now if anyone wants to die and pass thier estate along without the impositon of any estate tax at the federal level, the opportunity is yours! Tough advice to give to a client!

However, the generation skipping tax ("GST") is also no more. Anyone contemplating gifts in excess of the current $1,000,000 lifetime gift tax exemption will not have to pay GST tax of 45% to gifts to grandchildren. The gift tax rate was reduced from 45% to 35%. While Congress has talked about making any new taxes retroactive to January 1, 2010, there is some thought that that may be unable to do so based on prior case law. So there exists a window of opportunity for those willing to play the game.

The bad news is that Congress had to come up with some way to make up the revenue loss. So they invented something for this year called "modified carryover basis". This means that the executor of a decedent's estate can elect to "step up" the first $1.3 million of assets to the fair market value of a deceased person's estate as of the date of death. But anything else will be subject to "carryover basis", i.e. the basis in the hands of the heirs will be the same as the lifetime basis of the person who died owning the asset....unless, the decedent was married! A spouse is entitled to an additional $3M dollars of step up in basis election. The result is to increase the income tax on the sale of inherited assets at the time of a subsequent sale. The accounting profession will love this new computation. Congress tried this back in 1976. After two years when they admitted that it was so complicated that nobody could compy with it, Congress repealed it. Now this new system is back again in 2010. I wonder how long it will take Congress to remember that this was a mistake the first time and it is not any better the 2nd time around.

Conclusion: This is the year that everyone should review their estate planning documents to see what the current repeal of the Estate tax does to one's estate planning. There are still so many unknowns that are difficult to predict; but, high net worth estates may be able to do some things right now that will not be available later.

1 comment:

  1. BTW Forbes had an article today detailing precisely this strategy of making gifts now. They also talked about drafting GRATs and CLATs to give the remainders to Grandchildren in the event that the GST is not brought back.